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Charter school proposal triggers traffic concerns

MANATEE -- A traffic nightmare? Or the best possible development for a piece of property once slated to hold affordable housing?

A group of Manatee County residents seemed convinced Wednesday evening of the former. Charter Schools USA and other firms involved with the company did their best to convince them of the latter.

“There was previous approval on this land for affordable housing,” Misty Servia, a planner with King Engineering, told the crowd of about 50 that had gathered for a neighborhood meeting called by the charter school company. “I’m sure you will see some type of development here, so you might want to ask yourself what kind of development you’d prefer.”

But Pete Plaia, a representative of the Wallingford Homeowners Association, said the proposed school at 3806 30th St. E. was opposed by many of his neighbors.

“I think it needs to have more time put into it,” Plaia said. “The interests of the community need to come first.”

“We’re already being affected tremendously now by the 44th Avenue Extension and now we’re talking about adding we don’t know how many cars on 30th before 44th even comes through.”

Carmino De Marco, who lives at the intersection of 45th Way and 30th Street, said he feared the charter school designed for 1,100-plus students would draw traffic into his neighborhood and further reduce property values.

“Do you realize the traffic I’m going to have coming by there every day?” De Marco asked. “If there’s no buses, we’re going to have over 1,000 cars coming by every day.”

Sandy Lahay, who also lives near the school’s proposed site, said the school-generated traffic, combined with traffic from a nearby Wal-Mart, a school district worksite and Wakeland Elementary, would create a “nightmare.”

Servia and Dough Diecks of Ryan Engineering, which would build the school for Charter Schools USA, told the crowd that the company has already committed to adding a northbound left-turn lane along 30th Avenue to relieve traffic congestion.

They also emphasized that the school will have an extensive “stacking” area on its site, where parents can pull their cars over while they wait for students.

“The idea is to get the traffic off of the roadways,” Servia said.

Charter Schools USA has been working for three years to get the project approved. School board members initially voted against the company’s application because of concerns that included whether the school would have local representation. But in November, the board approved the company’s charter and has since said the new school would be “welcomed.”

Charter Schools USA has 31 schools throughout the country and serves 25,000 students.

Its representatives encouraged citizens to continue sharing their concerns and to attend two upcoming meetings at which government officials will decide whether to approve the school’s building plans.

Those meetings are at 9 a.m. Feb. 9 and Feb. 28 at county commission chambers.

If its plans are approved, Charter Schools USA aims to begin construction in March and finish in time to open this coming school year.

Christine Hawes, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.